|Publisher:||Books & Books Press|
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About the Author
Born in 1947 in Revere, Massachusetts, Dr. Fournier graduated from Merrimack College and Tufts University School of Medicine. Dr. Fournier has published many articles on topics ranging from diabetes to AIDS. He was among the first to treat patients with AIDS and recognize the socioeconomic forces driving the epidemic. All proceed froms sale of the book benefit Haiti.
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AUDITIONING PRESSURE & POLITICS
HANDLING THE SCRUTINY
The scariest auditioning experience I've ever had was my audition for acceptance into the summer program at the School of American Ballet. Since most kids attend the program from out of town, they take larger open call auditions in their own cities. Being from New York, however, I was offered a semi-private audition with the famous Antonia Tumkovsky (Tumy, as she was known by her students). I was alone with three other girls and one boy in what was the most gigantic studio I'd ever seen. Tumy entered the room followed by the pianist, the school's director, and the registrar. She was a tiny little thing; an elderly lady with big friendly blue eyes and the sweetest looking red lips. She walked with a cane, and dragged one leg along with a limp.
She didn't seem the least bit intimidating until ... WHAP! ... she hit the cane on the floor and said "DO ME FIRST POSITION, PLIERS!!" Instantaneously she became this fierce drill sergeant, and my stomach felt like it had crawled up into my throat. She came around to each of us testing our flexibility, range of turnout, and feet, and then scrutinized our pre-teen physiques. During the process she was making several comments in Russian to the school's director Madame Gleboff, who would then have the registrar make notes in her book. Every so often Ala, the voluptuous Russian pianist, would let out a chuckle or a grunt.
In what seemed like an eternity (but was actually only around an hour), the audition was over. Just like that, she turned back into the sweet little old lady that had first entered the studio, gave us all a little smile, and left. I ran out to my teacher who was waiting in the hall, and she said "Good girl! You did it, you're in!" Though I was so excited to have done well, I was in such shock over what I had just experienced that I was not sure how to react.
Auditioning is one of those things that is no big deal to some, but can be agonizing for others. The more auditions you go to, the more familiar the process becomes. There are certain steps that can be taken to give you an advantage over the other dancers in consideration. First and foremost, wear a neatly pulled together outfit that accentuates your best features, while camouflaging your flaws (for example, wearing a short wrap skirt in lieu of a long one will help to accentuate long legs, while a sleeved leotard will slim wide hips better than camisole styles). Do keep your outfit simple; a leotard, pink footed tights, and pointe shoes if called for. Steer clear of covering up with warm-up attire. Wearing bright, solid color leotard may help you to stand out in the crowd. Try as best as you can to execute the combinations with the first group, and try not to get stuck directly behind other dancers, where you might not be seen. Pay close attention to what is being asked for stylistically, as directors appreciate versatility in a dancer. Lastly, and probably most importantly, stay calm, cool, and collected and try to exude self-confidence without sacrificing your humility. Just be yourself. Directors want to see your personality shine through your dancing. They often look for individuality, not cookie cutter molds of the picture perfect ballerina or danseur.
It is in every dancer's best interest to arrive with a well-formatted, up-to-date resume of his/her training and professional experience, if any. Supply two recent 8x10 photos: one headshot and one dancing (most common is a simple "First arabesque" position in a leotard and tights). You may also want to attach a brief note to the director explaining why you are interested in training at that school, or in dancing for that particular company. In professional auditioning, the last step (if you are very interested in the job) is going out on your own to take class with the company at their studios or at a theater when they are on tour in a city near you. If the director sees you again, outside of the typical "cattle-call" audition atmosphere, he can more easily focus his attention on you, specifically, setting you apart from others at a general audition.
Do keep in mind that very often directors are looking for a specific type. Maybe he or she needs to replace a small soloist that particular season, but you happen to be a taller dancer with less experience. If you aren't chosen, try not to get discouraged! The decision does not necessarily reflect on you or your capabilities, and you may in fact have exactly what someone else is looking for. Finding your place in the right school or company is sometimes a trial and error process. It leads to a fundamental partnership between dancer and director, and as dancers we can't always understand what reasoning lies behind decisions that a director makes. Take each audition in stride, and use each as a learning experience for the next.
TIP: Arrive early and give yourself ample time to warm up before the audition begins. The barre work during an audition class is usually judged just as much as the center work and dancers may be cut before the barre is even over. If you are warm beforehand, you will be able to show off your full technique from the get go. Being warm will also help to protect yourself from strain, as the class may be structured differently from what your body is used to.CHAPTER 2
THE DANCER'S UNIFORM
I distinctly remember being so anxious with anticipation about going to my first ballet class, that I would get butterflies in my stomach every time I'd imagined dancing around "for real" in the pink tutu and tiara that my grandmother had given me for my birthday. Believe me, I loved that tutu so much that I would have jumped at the chance to eat, drink, and sleep in it if my mom had let me!
To my dismay (and protest), I learned that tutus were NOT permitted as classroom attire. They were considered a costume, and were only allowed to be worn on stage for performances. This new bit of information definitely put a damper on things, but I quickly decided that I would settle for the second best option; my favorite short sleeved leotard which was a bright cherry red. I'm not quite sure where I'd gotten it, or why I had that leotard before I was ever taking lessons, but I distinctly remember it being one of my favorite articles of clothing.
I was in for a giant shock though when I stepped into my very first ballet class; I looked around the studio and realized that something was not quite right. Why was I the only girl in a pretty colored leotard when everyone else had on plain black? Even though I had been so excited to be dressed in my absolute favorite color, somehow I just didn't feel comfortable looking different than the other kids.
The teacher quickly informed my mother that there was indeed a dress code that I would have to adhere to in her school, just like the other girls. Of course my mother agreed, but as luck would have it, she would not be able to buy me a black leotard until the following week, so I'd "just have to manage in my red one until then". Well, the next week came and went, and there I was, still standing out in class with my red leo (which I was quickly beginning to hate!). "Please!" I begged "I just HAVE to have a black one!!!". After a few more miserable classes of sticking out like a sore thumb, I did indeed get my very own black leotard. What a relief! I'd finally be able to blend in ... no more embarrassing red for me! Little did I know that a few years down the line I would give ANYTHING to be allowed to wear a different color, and to be noticed because of it!
Ever since that very first class I had become obliged to wear that customary black leotard and pink tights uniform for just about every single year of my ballet training; like the majority of ballet students are. I eventually came to despise that color combination, and hate pink tights in general. For years, I refused to wear them unless I was onstage and had absolutely no choice. That feeling of "uniform resentment" eventually withered away after my first five years, or so, out of school. To this day, I still try to steer clear of wearing a black leo and pink tights together (which, ironically is staple costume for several Balanchine ballets), but I do wear them separately all the time. Some days, I actually prefer wearing pink tights rather than a darker color, since they allow you to see your muscle definition more clearly in the mirror.
Now that I am a professional, and teach several classes at different schools, I am able to more easily appreciate and understand the need for a dress code. Not only does it enable the teacher to more easily see and correct their students' bodies, but it helps to instill a certain discipline in the students as well. Sometimes during the summers, schools are more relaxed in their rules, allowing the kids to wear any color leotard they choose. However, footed pink tights (without runs or holes) remain a requirement, and skirts are only allowed for pointe and variations class.
For the boys, instead of the usual white tee shirt (or leotard) they are accustomed to being forced to wear, they are free to wear any color tee as long as it is knotted or tucked into their black tights. For both boys and girls, neatness is always mandatory, and jewelry is almost always forbidden (other than small stud earrings for the ladies).
As a professional, I am now permitted to wear whatever I choose for class and rehearsal. Having this privilege though, I try very hard to be mindful in my choices. I always try to wear neat, well-fitting dancewear pieces that coordinate in color. I also love wearing earrings, but never anything too large, dangle-y, or distracting; and I NEVER wear hoop earrings unless they are specifically called for as part of a costume. They can be very dangerous; if someone's finger were to get caught inside one, you could tear an earlobe!
Though I do like to wear legwarmers and heavy knits in class to help me warm up more quickly, I try not to wear them in rehearsal. They cover up too much of my feet and knees, and I tend to get lazy about stretching them both when they are hidden from my sight. If I have a clear view of them in the mirror, and know that the ballet mistress can see them too, I have no choice but to work them to the max!
Ballerinas (and male dancers) must remember that, just like any other professional, our appearance sends out a message about what kind of dancer we are, and can determine whether or not we are taken seriously. If a lawyer entered a courtroom for a trial wearing a brightly colored track suit, one would probably not see him as a self-respecting professional. Well it is the same in dance. If a dancer comes to an audition, a class, or a rehearsal wearing overly baggy clothes, has messy hair, is wearing huge earrings or other jewels, or has large, noticeable holes in their clothes, chances are that they won't be seen as a serious self-respecting professional either.
It may not be correct to be judged on one's appearance, but in a sense a dancer is asked to "put on" an appearance all the time. It is a part of our training, and a part of our job; adhering to it shows your directors, teachers, ballet mistresses, and fellow dancers that you truly respect and care about what you are doing. I tend to dance better when I'm happy with how I look in the mirror. If I hate the outfit that I'm wearing, it becomes hard to look at myself in the mirror all day long. Every evening I carefully choose what I'm going to wear the next day according to my rehearsal schedule. I plan out what I think I'll feel most comfortable in depending on the different ballets I'll be dancing. For example, if I know I'm to be partnered a lot, then I'll steer clear leotards made with slippery fabric. It is a bit of a process, but, if I look good, I feel good, and when I feel good I dance better.
My philosophy is simple; we spend the majority of the day in our dance clothes rather than our street clothes, so it makes perfect sense to try to wear something that will make you look and feel your very best.
TIP: Old tights can be cut up, turned upside down and made into tops which can be worn under or over a leotard for added support and warmth. Cutting a hole in the crotch makes a hole for your head, while cutting off the feet allows hands to pass through when your arms are inserted into the tights "legs". These homemade tops are an ideal addition to any dancer's wardrobe. They are very form fitting, won't interfere with partnering, don't "hide" too much of the upper body as typical sweaters do, and best of all, since they're recycled, they are very economical; always a plus for students and dancers on a budget!CHAPTER 3
The Ballerina and Her Pointe Shoes
A Love-Hate Relationship
A faint odor was beginning to consume the air, stinging the noses of all of the girls in the SAB residence hall that afternoon. It grew stronger as the minutes passed, and when we finally went out into the hall to find out where it was coming from, we saw smoke beginning to emerge from the cracks under the kitchen door. My stomach sank as I realized that it was MY pair of pointe shoes that had caught fire in the oven!
You might be wondering what my shoes were doing in the oven in the first place. Well, that was one of the many crazy strategies that I had tried in the attempt to re-harden my old, worn down shoes. No, I did not come up with this ingenious plan on my own ... I was assured by one of my classmates that if I applied wood varnish to the tips and soles of my shoes and baked them in the oven at 350 degrees for twenty minutes, they would come out as good as new. What she neglected to tell me was to only PREHEAT the oven and then TURN IT OFF!!! Well, luckily for me, I did not succeed in burning down the residence hall. But the stench did linger for a few days. I also ended up with a black pair of shoes that had once been a delicate pink, and ones that were indeed hardened, but to a crisp ... not ideal for dancing, to say the least. It is with confidence that I say I learned from this mistake and do not recommend this method to anyone!
As a ballet dancer, our pointe shoes are the single most important equipment that we use. In the right pair, one can feel liberated, the steps freely flowing out of the body with the least bit of struggle. In the wrong pair, the results can range anywhere from torturously painful bloody toes, to missteps and falling down, to serious foot and ankle strain or injury. Finding the right pair of shoes is like Cinderella and her glass slipper. It is an ongoing trial and error process, which can oftentimes be quite frustrating. I assure you, once you've found the right pair, it's magical! There are many elements to consider in choosing one's shoes for each step of the development process, but the one unwavering factor that will always remain the most important of all is proper fit. Not only will a well fitting shoe feel and look good on the foot, but it will help in preventing injury. They'll also be more likely to break down in the correct areas, thereby lasting longer.
For most students, pointe shoes are an expense that not every parent can easily afford. Averaging between sixty and seventy dollars per pair, they quickly become an extremely costly necessity. The best shoes are often priced at the higher end of the spectrum, and ironically, tend to have the shortest lifespan when it comes to durability. When I was studying, my mother never understood why I needed to have a new pair of shoes as often as I did (which then was about once a month ... little did she know that when I'd become a professional my shoes would last for just one or two performances). Knowing that they were an expense, I tried my best to make them last. I tried hardening them with all kinds of concoctions; I tried spray shellac, wood varnish, and "Future" floor wax. I even took them to the local shoemaker to have him add in leather insoles. As a professional I've discovered that, since I am now equipped with the specifically correct shoes for my feet, all that it takes to sufficiently harden them is a tube of super glue or a few drops of JET glue poured into each tip before I wear them. Needless to say, this is a much more cost and time efficient way to get the job done.
There are mainly two types of shoes available today. Shoes made with traditional paste are usually hand made using natural materials, while the more modern variety are machine made using synthetic materials. While the latter are likely to be more durable and consistent, the traditional paste shoes tend to conform to the shape of the foot more easily as they break in. For both kinds of shoes the strength and level of support is determined by the construction of the upper box and the shank insole. Give each a try to determine what the best choice for you is.
Though I am pleased to say that I now wear custom made shoes that are crafted to my specifications, this was not always the case, and for those not in a professional company this is rarely an option. I can not stress enough the importance of being properly fitted for each pair of pointe shoes by an experienced salesperson, and if possible, under the supervision of one's teacher.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "So, You Want to Be a Ballet Dancer?"
Copyright © 2011 Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Turning Inspiration Into Perspiration,
AUDITIONING PRESSURE & POLITICS,
The Ballerina and Her Pointe Shoes,
TREAT YOUR FEET AND BANISH YOUR BLISTERS,
YOU MEAN BALLERINAS ACTUALLY EAT???,
THE DANCER'S BODY,
TAKE A "TIME OU"!!!,
BALLET IS NOT JUST FOR GIRLS,
GLOSSARY OF TERMS,
BALLET IS FOR ANYONE-NOT JUST PRO'S!,